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The shot that's sweeping Wimbledon

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

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Novak Djokovic plays a backhand during his fourth round match against Tommy Haas. (Getty)


The ornate inscription on the ancient and magnificent Wimbledon men's singles trophy is a consistent reminder of the weight of history that is interlinked with this oldest of all tennis events.

And, for this year at least, it is guaranteed to be a lie.

For the man who emerges victorious on Centre Court on Sunday will hoist aloft a cup hailing, as it has since 1877, the "Single Handed Championship of the World." The only problem is, whoever clinches the prize will have done so using both hands, at least on the backhand side.

Back when Tolstoy was penning Anna Karenina and Edison putting the finishing touches to the phonograph, the idea that a tennis player could use both hands to swat a backhand was seen as neither productive nor sportsmanlike – hence the inscription.

Fast forward a fistful of generations from 1877, and it's all changed. Once Tommy Haas and Mikhail Youzhny exited in a pair of straight sets defeats to co-favorites Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray on Tuesday, there was not one player relying on a one-handed backhand left in the draw – the first time in Wimbledon history that has ever happened at the quarterfinal stage.

Traditions die hard on these manicured London lawns and any suggestion of altering the timeless trophy would meet an indignant response from the All England Club and its patrons, just like if the all-white clothing regulations were ditched or strawberries and cream were suddenly removed from the menu.

But just three weeks removed from the French Open, where half of the men reaching the fourth round used a single-hander, experts are puzzled that none of the eight men who will contest Wednesday's quarterfinals are exponents of the traditional method.

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Andy Murray plays a backhand during a practice session. (Getty)

"You get help from the extra hand," said Djokovic, the current world No.1, when faced with the question. "Maybe you can play higher balls that are over your shoulder easier than the one-hander."

Given tennis' shift in recent times towards a heavier hard-court schedule, with naturally higher bounces, double-handed backhands have only increased in popularity. Furthermore, the ability of modern players to impart extreme topspin – think two-time Wimbledon winner Rafael Nadal's whipped forehand – means the ball is often kicking up at players at head height or above.

Until recently though, the one-handed backhand was still seen as an advantage on the Wimbledon grass, where the two most successful champions in its history, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, won seven times apiece with outstanding volleying and a flowing single-handed backhand. On the flip side, Bjorn Borg reeled off five straight titles from 1976 onwards using a two-handed backhand, while Jimmy Connors won twice, separated by an eight-year interlude, gripping the racket with both hands.

Modern players such as Murray and 2011 champ Djokovic still use just one hand when slicing the ball, but for their stock groundstrokes always stick to both fists. Former tour professional and current technical coach Jeff Salzenstein believes the double-hander allows "effortless power and control" and sees the shot as one of the main reasons behind the success of Murray and Djokovic.

The double-handed debate has been just one subplot in a fascinating men's draw that has seen home favorite Murray's half of the draw open up dramatically following the early exits of Federer and Nadal, while Djokovic – initially thought to be on the easier side – now faces tough Czech Tomas Berdych in the quarters.

With Murray set to take on Fernando Verdasco in the last eight, all signs still point towards a final showdown between the Brit and Djokovic on Sunday afternoon.

If Murray can end the home nation's 77-year wait for a men's champion, it will send his country into a whirlwind of overdue celebration, regardless of how many hands he used to do it.

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